The moment is no doubt favourable for examining, being sure to guard an ethnological distance, the custom of the vote: the last sacred cow of our comfortable and agreeably nihilistic countries. With the United States showing the way, a half of the people -- the majority of the young and the popular classes -- have progressively ceased to conform to this custom. Savage disbelief in the democratic religion, with its joint cult of number and the secret conviction of souls, grows. And as we have recently witnessed in diverse instances, the vote has become more and more unstable and irrational. It calls, at last, for philosophical critique!
I will focus here on the French Presidential elections of 2002, in fact, on the sequence from April 21 to May 5. Its details are quite easy to recall. After the first round, the socialist candidate, incumbent Prime Minister and poll favourite, Jospin, is eliminated. Instead, it is Le Pen, the extreme right-wing candidate, who makes it into the second round to challenge the incumbent President Chirac, who himself did not shine with all his glory, not even having gained 20% of the votes. This situation arouses considerable agitation throughout the country between the two rounds. The left-wing parties (the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Greens (ecologists) and even the Trotskyite Revolutionary Communist League) call to vote for Chirac, their intimate enemy, so as to block Le Pen's road and "save democracy". High school children take to the streets. On May 1st a large demonstration of 500,000 people proclaims its will to say "no" to Le Pen, proposing a vote for Chirac as the sole means of doing so. On May 5th Chirac is elected with a soviet-style score, Le Pen's vote remains stagnant and the emotion dissipates into the air like mist.
The referent being such a short and singular sequence, what would a philosophical method possibly consist in? And why give to this peripeteia of the French parliamentary system the honour of a philosophic consideration?
Concerning the second point, what compels me is the vigorous manifestation of a public affect, that which in the language of the 18th century was called an "emotion". Yes, Le Pen's presence at the second round of a French Presidential election provoked in quite a number of my fellow citizens an insomniac emotion: I must admit that I don't share it in the slightest. As such I was struck by the extent and unanimity with which it was felt by fellow philosophers -- philosophers who were manifestly (but they should not have been) a sort of echo chamber of all the "intellectuals" and also a non-negligible part of the educated youth. In truth, the electoral result seemed significant to me of the fact that, as I have thought and said for many years now, this country is quite politically ill. Not seeing in this result any reason worth losing one's head, I also saw that such cool headedness was held to be pathological, including by those that I love and value. The emotion being for them an antépredicative I thus said to myself that it had better be analysed, that it were a good point of entry into the sulphurous question of the vote and of "democracy".
Returning to the first point, I propose the following by way of an order of reasons:
1. An examination and a nomination of the public affect in correlation with its cause;
2. A critical examination of the names used to legitimate and confer upon this affect some political dignity, to give it a symbolic way out;
3. An identification of the general space wherein the link established between the public emotion, its cause and its consequences played itself out. That is, the construction of a problem which is ultimately the problem of the vote;
4. A proposition of this problem's general intelligibility and a radical displacement of its axiomatic position.
The cause of the affect was that there where one expected Jospin in came Le Pen. It remains to find out exactly what this there is -- a subtle question pertaining to the numerical distribution of places.
The affect itself was presented as a nuance situated between the consciousness of a threat (the affect, then, is in the register of fear: "I fear . . . ", One was said to be "very scared") and the conscience of a stain, of an aberration (I'm ashamed", "This is not possible"). But what is its relation to the cause?
The legitimisation of this affect was constructed around a legitimate defence : the defence of democracy and/or of the Republic. Was there a real to this threat? And what was it that was so profaned?
The symbolic "solution" calming the panic was the vote for Chirac: but where did the supposed motivation for that act come from?
The general space of the relation between the affect (I fear, I'm ashamed) and its symbolic sedative (Chirac's triumph) was, of course, the vote. What is thus given to be understood here is the following absolutely astounding subjective formula: "Since Le Pen came in there where Jospin should have been, then there, where I would have abstained or voted Jospin, I must vote Chirac".
Intelligibility requires that the vote be related to something other than itself. The questions are thus evident:
1. What is the real in relation to which the vote is for some the formulation and others the dissimulation? How is it that, a propos of the vote, a passage was enabled from the massive maxim of May '68 "Elections, idiot trap" to the maxim that could be read at the demonstration of May 1st 2002, "I think therefore I vote"?
2. Supposing that this real includes Le Pen, does not another treatment of Le Pen exist, one irreducible to the strange fanfare of voting for Chirac?
Cause and effect
To determine the cause of that public affect, it suffices to attempt the following eidetic variation: let us suppose that Le Pen received more votes than he in fact did on the 21st of April, but that he came in behind Jospin. Surely there would not then have been all that emotion, nor its prolonged hysterics. No doubt the analysts would have shared their concerns as some did after Le Pen's position was maintained in the second round. But as a result, perhaps, there would have been more of a relation to the real. And certainly less, if any, affective gesticulation.
Consequently, the cause of the affect was simply that Le Pen came in at a (certain second) place, not the numerical impact of his candidature as such. In what, then, does this place consist? It is the place symbolically recognised as being in-the-race for power: the stupefaction resulted from Le Pen's being-in-the-race.
It pays to ponder for a moment the virtue of place in the ballot to make clear what symbolic equality exists between candidates. For, in reality, there is a fundamental distinction to be made between merely "being a candidate" and "being a candidate in a position indicating the possibility of having power". The attaining of such a position is decided otherwise than is the case for simple candidature. As such it is notable that a Le Pen-candidate, and even a Le Pen-with-a-very-good-score, had made very little impression upon the masses -- something which is moreover to be regretted. Yet, a Le Pen in the place that he attained unleashed a considerable affect, at least in certain strata of the population.
This means, of course, that this place is pre-coded. Some would argue that it is destined only for a "democrat", for an authentic "republican". However, once obtained, as it was, by someone suspected not to be, by someone represented as heterogeneous to the coding of the place, then as occurs when a sacred relic is touched by an infidel, the public emotion of the guardians of the temple is aroused.
Thus, it is simply not true, at least in that which concerns the affect -- that is, the mass of opinion -- that voting is considered to be an expression of the freedom of opinion. For in reality it is subject to what I call the principle of the homogeneous: candidacy is available to anyone, but to be elected to a place pre-coded for potential power you have to conform to a certain norm. In truth, this means that you should not do anything essentially different from your predecessors. This principle in fact guarantees the conservatism of the vote, incarnated today by the alternation of the two major parties. If your "enemies" must also be able to be your successors in power, it is because you have not taken measures to render their coming impossible. Such is the so-called "citizen's pact" that is constantly drummed into our ears: in the Chambers of State the adversary's bed must always be made. This presupposes, does it not, that one's adversary is not considered so adverse as to warrant that even slightly serious measures would be taken to block their road. As Alain Peyrefitte said to the Socialists and Communists in power in 1981 when Mitterand's nationalisations were being decided: "You've been elected to change the government, not to change society". And the warning was well understood: from 1983 onwards under Laurent Fabius governmental orientation became indiscernible from a straight reactionary administration.
Those who experienced acute emotions after April 21st should be warned: in the final analysis, they demonstrated in favour of the principle of the homogeneous, as is proved by the fact that they sold off their turmoil by voting for Chirac. Since what was the value of that vote if not to say that, faced with the emergence of the apparently heterogeneous, what is essential is the common ground uniting Chirac and Jospin? And note that this principle of the homogeneous is global. If tomorrow another candidate considered heterogeneous by les beaux quartiers -- let us say our honest Arlette Laguiller -- were to come in at a pre-coded place, then another kind of public emotion would arise and (what) would you object to it? What would you do when the attendant gigantic demonstration against "red" totalitarianism sprang up? Bourgeois opinion is capable of making an uproar: the demonstrations on June 30, 1968 against the workers and the youth movement, and in 1982 in defence of l'Ecole Libre, were much greater than the one opposing Le Pen on May 1st 2002.
The only reasonable conclusion is that when decisive political transformations are at stake in a country putting them to a vote will ensure that nothing happens because they will have been submitted to the principle of the homogeneous. And it is interesting to note that, in general, a partial but large mass of opinion, whether it be "democratic" (in defence of free existential comforts) or directly bourgeois (in defence of property rights and earnings), serves to guarantee, on the street, the principle in question. That is, it guarantees our continuing just like before.
Le Pen was represented precisely as someone under whom we would not continue as before. But why exactly? The question of the heterogeneous raises itself here and it is a difficult philosophical question. From which threshold can an entity be determined to be heterogeneous to a given ensemble and its dominant predicates? Taking into account today's French parliamentary system, its personnel, and its themes, how is Le Pen heterogeneous to it? Let there be no misunderstanding: Le Pen is without doubt a scoundrel, trained at length in the serai of the fascist groupuscules of the 1950's, and self-confessed to having been "educated" by the activity of torturer in the colonial army in Algeria. However, this personal identity does not suffice to define him as really heterogeneous to the parliamentary system. A propos of the latter, does one think of excluding Madelin, who played at being at the helm of a pro-nazi groupuscule appropriately called "Occident"? Regarding the general form of his action during the last decades, Le Pen has always argued that he has done nothing other than present himself for election. And that is essentially right. The National Front has a combat group, but so did the Communist party. So no one on the left would be able to extract an argument from that fact refusing him the right to compete in elections. It could thus be said (and it is also my point of view): that Le Pen was present at the second round of a French Presidential election without having lead a fascist militia into the streets means he is homogenous to the French parliamentary system. Besides, in the second round 6 million people confirmed their vote for the leader of the National Front, thus proving without the least doubt that they hold him to be a candidate just like any other.
But if Le Pen is homogenous to our political system it is the militants of emancipation who should be heterogeneous to it, so as to be really heterogeneous to Le Pen. Elections should bear the shame for Le Pen's presence and not those who abstain from them. The march should have thus been -- just like the one protesting the reactive use of the scared vote of les provinces profondes to quell the uprising of May 68 -- to cries of "Election, betrayal". Or better still, "Elections, sty of pigs".
But that is a long way off from what happened! The question of the heterogeneous has thus come back to haunt us. Indexing it to current political content proves difficult. Foreigners? But who for years out of the masses of terrified democrats of April 21st has really worried about them? Has not even the most implacable of successive legislations worked to solder left and right against the "peril" of--what are called in France--the sans papiers, universally tagged "clandestine"? Have we seen all those "anti-racists", who were on the rampage after the ballot, worry themselves about the plight of hundreds of thousands of workers deprived of their rights? And security? Have we not seen the quasi-totality of the scribbling democrats rediscover with delight a conscience of security? Did we not read a number of republican intellectuals demand, in the school of the mayor of New York, "zero tolerance"? Have they not all joyfully accepted the complete disappearance of references to the worker in political discourse? Is not the idea that the word "West" -- formerly reserved for the extreme right-wing-- designates a superior civilisation dominant everywhere? And is it not the case that all those democrats are now ready to fight in the name of that superiority against all the "Muslims" on earth? On all of these points Le Pen is homogeneous to the dominant governmental discourse. Besides, that is what has allowed him to parade in the ballot and on the television, whereas in the red years -- between 1968 and 1980 -- he and those like him could not get out of their rat holes without 10 thousand militants forcing them back down.
So what? Suffice it to say that, concerning Le Pen, the average conscience of the heterogeneous is purely ideological. For the mass of democrats he represents neither an unrecognisable political method, nor an inadmissible political content. He is only the bearer of a discourse of conservation which, instead of being that of democratic conviviality, is that of a national archaism and its historical reality, Pétain. What is Pétain? It is the cowardly conviction that by closing one's eyes to a few atrocities it is possible to keep up a more or less well-off existence and, in any case, to avoid any risks, however mildly heroic, so that things will remain essentially "like before". And what is the parliamentary system -- left and right wings indistinct! -- of a secondary nation like France? Exactly the same thing: a negative well-being without project, without idea. Satisfied perpetuation. Le Pen is basically the extreme end of the parliamentary system and it is precisely as such that he brings shame to the "democratic" electors: like the hideous spectacle of what one is oneself, but brought to its extreme, or proclaimed rather than hidden. That is the true content of the bizarre slogan: "Le Pen means hate!" Do they really like the deprived foreigners, the workers, the ill Africans, the fraternity of combats and enthusiastic political adventures, that is, the very things that stigmatise their electoral nightmare? Nothing would have us believe it. Instead, just as they have always done, moderate profiteers veil the chronic violence protecting them from the real world and the vast anonymous masses under proclamations of love. But when someone declares in all its violence the very thing their comfort presupposes, the thing they consent to in silence or in lies, they yell that that is enough and that they cannot partake of it.
The heterogeneous against which a small France rose up for two weeks was nothing but the explicit, excessive, displayed and outdated form of what this France tolerates in order to persevere in its being. It was in honour of this dreadful "self" that a brief affect-storm--rather than being properly identified--was worked up in our souls.
The public emotion accompanying Le Pen's occupation of a place pre-coded for someone else was presented as the identification of a peril. One was said to have been "very scared". This identification of peril gave rise to a ridiculous and nearly inexplicable turgidity. Noises circulated saying that Le Pen was nearly assured of election. Bursts of feverish emails rang out everywhere warning of fascism at the door. Petitions of "resistance" unified all the intellectual corporations. Nevertheless, we, the real militants, have had some reason to complain in that for many years now the attention paid to lepenist ideas and their governmental effects (iniquitous laws against workers without papers) has been but marginal. No "resistance", or hardly any, has been forthcoming. Whence comes suddenly that barricading fever? Let us propound a rule: when the exercise of resistance is abstract the suddenly unexpected is virtually infinite. Not normally worried by real lepenism, but taken aback in their electoral sleep, the citizens, as they call themselves a little pompously, were ready, like those who startle easily in the wee morning, to play to the most unlikely tribulations.
In addition to this, there was an overall sense of feeling "ashamed of France". What was the content of that shame? As for me, I am ashamed of decades of successive French governments and especially of hypocritical governments who persecute the sans papiers or lick the boots of warrior Americans under nominations such as "leftists", "socialists" or "communists". But here we are manifestly dealing with something different. The shame, I think, came from the fact that the arrival of Le Pen -- that extremist, odious image of a secret and subservient public conscience -- into the second round was like a stain on the contemporary sacralisation of the electoral institution. Chirac's election was then supposed to have "effaced the shame". In other words, the return of the usual routine -- governmental alternation -- restored the dignity of the fetish.
There are also many intellectuals, marked in this sense by a"republicanism" à la Chevènement, who have a hyperbolic consciousness of France. Is it not, after all, the homeland of human rights? Numerous foreigners also believe that until that same "homeland" expulses them. Is it not the essential democracy? After April 21st, some democrats pulled out their hair remembering the arrogant lectures given to Jorge Haider's Austria and Berlusconi's Italy. Why is it that we have not ceased for over two centuries to take out overdrafts on our Revolution? It has opened for us, nationally and internationally, a credit sometimes believed inexhaustible. The time has finally come -- after Pétain, but also after Jospin (or Chirac: the same thing as we saw with the vote) -- to realise that this credit ran out long ago. Restoration France, the France of the Versaillais, Collaborationist France, the France of the colonial wars, the contemporary French subservience: France is an abject country more often than its due. It is only saved by that which makes an exception to it. Such was perhaps already the case with Robespierre, Saint-Just and Couthon, albeit quickly overturned by that major figure of our national destiny, the Thermidorian -- that is, the one who renounces his revolutionary enthusiasm and does commerce with his rallying to the tune of property owners. The passage from "Elections, idiot trap", to the Western and democratic fetishism, and then to the vote for Chirac in order to "save the republic" is somewhat that eternal Thermidorian shift, alas, much more continuously French than our admirable insurrections.
Whether it be fear or shame, fear and shame: one is caught oscillating between blind devotion to the vote, national hyperbole and panic-stricken gesticulations.
Legitimating an affect in the political order necessitates adequate names. And if that affect is a combination of panic and shame (dissimulating no doubt the most violent instinct there is, that of conservation) what is crucial is that these names designate an entity which is both untouchable and numerically consensual, the organisation of whose defence they should forthwith provoke.
These names were: "democracy" and "the republic".
Of the second -- a national speciality -- I will say that I have wondered for a long time now what it might signify. I can see the rigour of the word when a section of thesans-culottes claim it to take the aristocrats à la lanterne, rise up in arms at the border to block the route to the monarchies, or invade the legal assembly to demand the purgation of the indifferent. But today? The republic of whom, of what? That of the terrifying national massacre of 14/18? That which voted to give full powers to Pétain? That of the atrocious colonial wars? Of Guy Mollet? Of Mitterand? Of the pair of Jospin/Chirac? Or then of de Gaulle? To say that Le Pen "threatens the Republic" is nonsensical. And evoking "fascism" is evidently overblown, even if Le Pen's youth was nourished on the intellectual detritus of the thirties. Whoever saw the spirited Jack Lang, charged with commentating the ballot on the television, saying "fascism will not get through" has surely been vaccinated against all contemporary usage of the word "republic".
The word "democracy" is obviously more complex, would it be simply because, throughout the world, it names the system also called "the West", that is to say, the civilisation of which the American Army and the Israeli mercenaries are, as one knows, the rampart. This is the word which has worked to crystallise the consenting subjectivity and whose referent is the untouchable. Democracy: that is what Le Pen desecrated by being in the place reserved for those in-the-run for power. On the walls there were lyrical odes to this system of government, yet one could not say that it has lifted us during these times to the summits of the becoming-generic of humanity. Around May 5th an immense graffiti evoking Paul Eluard and the Résistance did not hesitate to proclaim: "I write your name, Democracy!" The artist of the mural, however, did not dare write that which was nevertheless to become the real substance of his devotion: "I write your name, Jacques Chirac!"
What is altogether remarkable is that the occurrence of the word "democracy" was rendered tortuous being used to designate both that which Le Pen threatens and sullies, and that which was lacking in Jospin thereby preventing him from securing the place which in the normal run of things was reserved for him. It is indeed undeniable, as a number of idolisers of the said Jospin discovered while defending democracy, that the reign of this "socialist" bore a constant scorn for the overwhelming majority of people who live and work in our country. One had thus not only to cleanse the shame inflicted on democracy, but also to deplore Jospin's lack of it, for which the only thing on offer as a way out was Chirac -- a veritable friend of the people, that one, a well known democrat! The public emotion simply led its subjects astray through a labyrinth where "democracy" and "deficit of democracy", evil and remedy, cause and effect, were able to change places instantaneously. Nothing revealed this more clearly than the extraordinary declaration of Alain Krivine, trotskyite leader of the LCR: "Come Sunday I will vote for Chirac. Come Monday I will demonstrate for his resignation". How about that for speaking clearly and drawing an intransigent democratic line! In the meantime the vote was had, but the demonstration will have to wait for better days.
The sole function of the word "democracy" was to legitimate the vote's defence against any occupation too heterogeneous -- that is, too revealing -- of its symbolic space. That is why, without examining any political content, and speaking very vaguely of "racism" and of the "facho", the dismayed proudly claimed the right to say "no!". Always commercially concerned to vaunt the merits of youth (which as has been known for a long time, contains only those to have emerged in the epoch), diverse magazines accordingly baptised that of the demonstrations the "no generation". Unfortunately, the essence of politics, especially when there is a real peril, resides not in the "no" but in the "yes". Indeed, it lies in the examination of diverse kinds of "yes". It resides in that which one consents to or affirms. Saying "no" to Le Pen leaves entirely aside the question of what lepenism is and where its real diffusion lies. Opposing this diffusion will be achieved, not by saying "no" to abstractions like "racism" or "hate", but by saying "yes" to entirely precise political orientations like the following: the regularisation of the sans papiers; complete independence from American imperialist adventures; the factory as a political site; the immediate organisation throughout Africa of free healthcare for contagious illnesses, and especially for AIDS . . .
In fact, the famous "no" authorises that we pass in silence over the prior "yesses", the "yesses'" of consent which will have effectively authorised that lepenism can be everywhere. Consent to the persecution of those without papers, to detention centres, to American crusades, to the devastation of workers lives by the petit bourgeois d'Aubry 35-hour week, and to millions of deaths in Africa. That is, consent to what was, during the second round, Le Pen's main slogan: "take it easy chez soi" which has perhaps been, throughout the Mitterand/Jospin/Chirac years, the consenting subjectivity of the overwhelming majority of the dismayed democrats of April 21st. And it remains the shameful subjective secret that the semi-affluent of our European societies dissimulate behind the logomachy "democratic", a secret whose formula, as shared as it is unspoken, is: my comfort, my little bit of jouissance and leave me in peace!
What should be feared is that sheltered behind the (legitimate) disgust that Le Pen and his cronies inspire an entirely other fear, intimate and abject, pursues its career: the fear that one day an unknown people, held at a distance, unnamed but massive, will come to request the accounts from those who have for so long consented to the fact that their apparent fortune, their tranquil lives, their discussion as "free" as it is vain, is paid for by the greatest indifference concerning the lot of generic humanity.
There can hardly be any other explanation for the speed with which commentators insisted on the supposed lepenism of the workers and the poor. In the final analysis, however, the really heterogeneous is that which manifests an(other) idea of politics, for example, a politics of emancipation, a politics decided by ordinary people and not by the guardians of State, a politics not concerned with elections. Now such a politics would take root on the side of workers without papers, of free intellectuals, of ordinary wage earners, of people whose lives are serried and difficult, rather than on the side of the "editors" of Le Monde and Libération. What is better: it is starting to happen. Notice thus how it suits to ward off these ordinary people by means of a "no" which -- justified by the dreadful Le Pen -- ricochets nicely affecting all orientations claiming to inscribe these workers and these ordinary individuals of the people in a politics veritably heterogeneous to the one dominating us.
This "no" is nothing but a symbolic, numerical, demonstrative consolidation of the essential "yes" by which the middle classes of our country agree to the perpetuation of an ignominious political universe.
Granted: it is more difficult to renounce these "yesses", to change what one says "yes" to, to go from consent to militant affirmation, from comfort to truth, than it is to say "no" for 10 days to the offence a fetish is declared to have suffered. This rebellious tone is but the pleasant and provisional form of a shivering thrill to the good old consent to what already exists, and from which is reaped enough enjoyment to thwart the advent of the heterogeneous.
Paradoxes of the vote
This thinking oneself heroic when in reality one is simply conservative furnishes us with a good introduction to examination of the paradoxes of the vote. For example:
1. That the vote is a free formalism, indeed, some say, the formalism of political liberty itself, yet it is also obligatory. It is,as one knows, juridically obligatory in a number of countries. But as we witnessed this time in the violent diatribes against abstention for many it is also subjectively, or morally obligatory. (That is, let it be said in passing, for any intellectuals and students, but not so much for the essential people. For they abstained in still greater numbers in the June legislative elections. Little by little, "democracy" is taking the turn of a minority ritual).
2. That there is equality of number, such is the law of suffrage. Yet, as we have said, the decisive places are coded according to norms which transcend numbers.
3. That there is a flagrant asymmetry between "yes" and "no". The consequence of a "no" is elimination and it is effective. On the contrary, what is played out with a "yes" could not be more elusive. What commitments are elected members held to? Nothing of worth, in any case, which holds even more today as the notion of "program" had been practically discredited. Thus, for the voter there is, a real of the negative sanction, but no real foreseeable effect of success -- except that of the conservation of the principal parameters of existence. At least, that is, of those ones over which elected representatives exercise some authority. Such is the secret of lukewarm politics: the only way to stay in power is to do nothing.
What is the meaning, in these conditions, of the cult of the vote post April 21? Precisely, that voting is the only political procedure known whose immobilism is a practically ineluctable consequence, reserve made for that which is demonstrably a law of nature. In this way, phenomena as considerable and as dramatic as the achievement of the destruction of rural France in a few decades, the dismantling of public services, schools included, the alibi found in obedience to European directives, or the follow-the-leader attitude in American wars, have never been submitted to a vote, nor clearly chosen through such and such a party. The vote does not bear on these capital questions, which are instead presented consensually by those in politics as simply constituting that which exists and not as that which is decided (so it is said: "it's the modern world", "the world as it is"). Similarly, certain decisions must be taken in secrecy because they are not sufficiently conservative to withstand the test of the vote (for example, France's commitment to Iraq during the long and extremely bloody war against Iran, a commitment which has never really been made public). Otherwise said: if important changes take place they do not do so in the field of the vote. Inversely, that which is in the vote's field is on the whole inalterable. What fascinates and brings about adhesion to the procedure of the vote is this guarantee of decision without object.
On the contrary, a politics enveloping real decisions, I mean emancipating decisions, is entirely foreign to the vote, because by deciding something liberating you designate yourself as hostile to established interests, interests which despite being in the minority will make enough of a hullabaloo, and will control enough instruments of propaganda that your replacement at the next election is guaranteed. A guarantee which will be all the more willingly carried out since voting is done to persevere and not to become.
Linking politics to real decisions, readable not as adhering to the nature of things but as consequences of a will, can only be done by putting it to principles and to practices which depend directly on such principles, rather than to the very strange rule that would submit everything to the number.
The vote is in essence contradictory to principles, just as it is to every idea of emancipation and of protest. On this point permit me an anecdote: during the fatal 15, when the "facho" Le Pen contested the presidency, students of the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs produced numerous "democrat" posters, just like their glorious ancestors of May '68 produced revolutionary ones. The ancestors illustrated the adage "Elections, idiot trap", their descendants the adage "Voting, it's tremendous",or close to. Proof, then, that Heraclitus was right: one never steps in the same river twice. During this time, I caught sight of a poster in green serigraphy (for some time now green has been worn more willingly than red) hanging in the school's entrance proclaiming: "A blank vote is no longer a protest vote". I interrogated a group surrounding the masterpiece: "You don't mean to say, all the same, that to vote for Chirac would be a protest vote?" They granted me that that would indeed be an exaggeration. "Still less a vote for Le Pen?" I added. They exclaimed that I should not dream of it. "Thus", I said, "if neither voting for Le Pen, nor voting for Chirac, nor voting blank is protesting you mean to say, and you should have written: voting is not protesting". They did not agree but by balking at what they believed to be my conclusion. I gave chase, "Are you democrats?" They smiled at the thought that I could possibly imagine the contrary. "You find then" I continued, "that voting is the major political act, that voting is what there is that is good?" This they confirmed with wide grins of self-sufficiency and one of them, as if addressing himself to a slow intellect, explained to me that this is exactly what they wanted to say with their poster. "But then", I said "if voting is good and voting is no longer protesting it is protesting which is bad. Is that what you want to say?" They would not admit it easily. But, alas, that is exactly what they wanted to say. That was the real content of their emotion. As the libertarians of the 19th century said: "to vote is to abdicate". More exactly, today one should say: "To want to abdicate is to vote".
Passive and active number
The reason for the paradoxes of the vote are well known: its technical rationality means the result is gotten from a pure count, which authorises the infinite attentions of sociologists and political scientists -- as concerned with numerical details and variations as the specialists of climactic history -- and works to cover over massive irrationality. For why would number have political virtue? Why would the majority, modifiable at will thanks to the ruse of infinite modes of balloting, be endowed with the attributes of a norm? Such approximations are simply not tolerated in other domains where human thought is at stake. Great scientific creators and innovative artists have been right contrary to dominant opinion. Even violent amorous passions affirm themselves against mediocre social judgement. Is politics, and it alone, to be condemned to the conservatism of numerical means? Everything indicates that this is not the case. Since each time a capital political decision is to be taken, by everyone in their own name, the partisans of the just and the true are initially entirely in the minority, indeed, electorally insignificant. The résistants of the 1940's, those of the 1950's opposed to the sordid colonial wars, the "leftists" of the 60's and 70's: all of them were absolutely in the minority just as are those who today see imperialistic ambitions and the spirit of servitude hide beneath the mask of "humanitarian interventions", or the "war against terrorism". And, basically, everyone knows that number, the majority, won as it is from blind lists upon leaving the ballot box, has no real meaning.
The refuge then is the ambivalence of number. For it is necessary to distinguish passive number, such as it functions in the ballots, from an entirely other number, active this time, pertaining to demonstrations, mass strikes, and indeed insurrections.
The active number, as large as it may be, is in truth always minuscule with regard to the passive number. The demonstrators of May 1st 2002 boasted to have numbered 500, 000. That was nothing compared either with the total number of voters or with Le Pen's 6 million voters. In fact, the active number is not capable of being valorised except if the power of the collective will traverses it, such that it takes the risk of an act, or of a tenacity of organisation, above and beyond any consideration of averages or majority.
Between April 21st and May 5th, the democrats having realised that a monster prospered in the fields of passive number -- in fact, their intimate monstrosity -- and without wondering whether such is not the law of this kind of number -- all passivity is, I believe, politically suspect -- attempted to console themselves with a production of active number. They "took to the streets". But their power was derisory, for by love of the vote they proclaimed the servitude of the active to the passive number.
The active number must be detached from any correlation to the passive number. A meeting, a demonstration, an insurrection -- all proclaim their right to existence outside any consideration not immanent to that existence. Scoundrels have never found it difficult to prosper in obscure content, passivity, and the secrecy and anonymity of numbers. Hitler himself came to power through elections, and it was a regular assembly which elected Pétain.
Making the active number play the role of hollow auxiliary to the passive number, as was done on May 1st 2002, indicates a state of consciousness without hope. And all things considered, the effect of that demonstration was, as one knows today, simply nil. We got Chirac without the slightest democratic bonus. And the youth, like a small torrent in a dry region after a storm, just disappeared into its bed.
Rousseau had already encountered the intrigues of number in its relation to political will.
With him there is a clear opposition to the vote insofar as it is a mere matter of the designation of deputies, that is, of "representative" democracy. His axiom -- nothing less than that of the active number (a demonstration being nothing beyond its act, as it is composed only of demonstrators who constitute its presentation) -- states the following: "The will cannot be represented". That is why, for Rousseau, the British parliamentary system was nothing but camouflaged despotism: no sooner than the deputies are elected, the people, he writes, "is enslaved, is nothing". The essence of politics, according to Rousseau, affirms presentation over and against representation.
From another angle, he recognises the power of the number, the popular decision being taken from the majority of suffrages. The people gathers together, votes, and says Rousseau, "the greatest number obliges the rest". The enigmatic link between passive totalisation and decision is maintained: "The declaration of the general will is drawn from the calculus of votes".
However, it could not be said that Rousseau, so demonstrative in the details, manages to found the authority of number. His argument, as one knows, is that the mutual destruction of individual wills working against one another gives rise to a vote that effectively concentrates the generality of a will. But, what could the notion of majority voice possibly mean here, won as it is at the end of the obscure process of the reciprocal neutralisation of individual wills (in sum, self-interest)? Who does not get that it would be magic were it to express suddenly the universal rectitude of political willing?
Rousseau had also perceived the inappropriateness of number for really important decisions. Since, he says, "naming a supreme leader who suppresses the law" is entirely licit when it is a matter of the "freedom of the country". The usage made of that insight by les conventionnels of the Committee for Public Safety is well known. And as Marx himself repeated after them, when one is on the verge of the creation of a world dictatorship is the natural form of organisation of the political will. The reason for it is simple: what is the sole resource of those who have nothing, who control neither the apparatus' of repression, nor of propaganda? Without doubt, that unique resource is number, but in the form of active disciplined number. Yes, the only truly popular political arm consists in the submission of the active number to a discipline of thought and action. And that is in general foreign to the law of suffrage, for suffrage amounts to the dislocation of discipline into the passivity of number. And does not Rousseau himself indirectly recognise this, when he mentions the necessary recourse, when things get dramatic, to a single leader as the symbolic materialisation of citizenry discipline? And is that not what Marx himself proposed under the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat?
Finally, for all these thinkers the electoral number is adequate only when it is a matter of the tranquil perpetuation of the passive calculus of interests and the maintenance of the homogeneous. But it is clearly inadequate when it is a question of acting, founding, or confonting an event.
All this amounts to saying that the pompous formula employed the day after Chirac's election, "The Republic has been saved", has no value whatsoever. For either there is no peril and exclaiming that we have been saved is absurd; or one really exists, but it is definitely not the number of voters for Chirac that will ward it off. If there is a problem with lepenism in our country (and, more generally, a problem of the extreme right-wing in Europe) then both the subservience of consciences and political incompetence must be attacked by affirmative commitments untied to electoral concerns and measured only against principles. And the principle of principles, for the modern philosopher, is the principle of equality. Inventing the sites and procedures of a political work internal to the popular masses; reviving the word "worker", so that the expression of the generality of the maxim of equality finds itself ramified in every open situation (foyers, factories, streets, cities. . . . ): this is our problem and our task. What is needed -- and we should be in no doubt -- is a solid indifference to positions of State and a constantly sustained cordial scorn for electoral prebends. What is needed is the serene and displayed supremacy of the active number over the passive number. What is needed is the wax Ulysses used so as not to yield either to the songs, or to the sirens, or to the blackmail of "democracy". What is needed are new paths, the key to invention being that which during the 70's was called la liaison de masse, that is, the direct making of politics by those for whom it is made, those for whom only the maxim of equality is apt to inscribe existence in its truth.
Otherwise put, it is a matter of finding new sites of the general will. Rousseau knew it well: "Individual will by nature tends to preferences, and the general will to equality". The manifestation of the return of a general will, were it on a single point, will necessitate sacrificing preferences. This is where philosophy can help. Since, in its most general inspiration it teaches us that the universality of truth is preferable to mere preferences. And it is then that one is fortunate--beyond the market.
 The original French slogans are respectively "Elections, piège à cons" and "Je pense donc je vote" .
 The French slogans are respectively "élection, trahison" and "élections, tanière à cochons".
 Badiou is of course referring here to the point made earlier that a fascist groupuscule had claimed for itself the word "Occident". The difficulty, as one knows, is that this term is simply rendered as the "West" in English, a term which is largely stripped of the religious and metaphysical connotations of the word Occident.
 "Le Pen, la haine!" is the original French.
 In French, respectively, "J'écris ton nom, délmocratie!" and "J'écris ton nom, Jacques Chirac".
 "Elections, piège à cons" and "Voter, c’est formidable" respectively.
Alain Badiou was born in 1937 in Rabat (Morocco). He studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and participated in 1969 in founding the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes) where, as a colleague of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Rancière, Jacques Poulain and others, he taught for thirty years. Today, Alain Badiou is director of the department of philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, thus finishing where he began. Alain Badiou is a philosopher, but also a novelist and a playwright. He has, moreover, never ceased being a political militant. Of his considerable philosophic oeuvre, Being and Event (Le Seuil 1988) -- his most ambitious attempt to date -- and the monographs such as those on Saint-Paul (P.U.F 1998) and Deleuze (Minnesota University Press 1999) and the recent trilogy Court Traité d'ontologie transitoire, Petit Manuel d'inesthétique, Abrégé de métapolitique (all published by Seuil 1998) distinguish themselves.
Translated from the original by Steven Corcoran.muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v006/6.3badiou.htmlE-mail this article